Idiot’s View on Writers Festivals


During the last couple of weeks I attended the Melbourne Writers Festival. There were some highlights, (here) and (here), but there were also some, shall we say, lasting niggles. These are probably common to writers festivals the world over and can drive the mocha- decaf-latte set into a tizzy. So, I thought I’d share some observations. I’m just that kind of guy. So, I present to you, the Idiot’s Guide to Writers Festivals:


There is guaranteed to be at least one LMQ per session. That’s a Long Meandering Question. The LMQ is usually in the form of a statement, sometimes lasting minutes, often without a point or any hint of a question at its end. In fact, the savvy facilitators know this going in. In a session with Glen David Gold (he of Carter Beats The Devil & Sunnyside) the facilitator expressly warned against LMQs. Several hands went down. LMQs are not questions, just pretentiousness parading as such. One gent I witnessed, spent a good three or four minutes of his ‘question’ talking how much he knew about a certain author. Which had nothing to do with the writer on stage. He didn’t even write in the same genre. When he got to the end of his rant he sat down. The author blinked a few times and asked if there was a question in there somewhere. The LMQ guy frowned, shook his head and went back to his notes.


Hats. There’s a lot of hats at a writers festivals. Proportionally more crochet than you would encounter amongst the general populous.


The same goes for glasses. You won’t see more black thick rimmed glasses per capita this side of Greenwich Village. And more glasses slung around the neck on strings than you would see this side of a doctors conference.


If you ever want to feel young, get along to a writers festival event. It seems as though retirees are the only ones who can take a Friday off work. Well, besides me. But I’m a book nerd.


Even though there were people attending sessions to listen to their favourite authors, there are many more who are writers or want to be writers, feverishly taking notes, looking for that ‘ahhh’ moment. They are seeking that secret which will allow them to submit their 2000 page monolith of a manuscript which will surely win the Man Booker prize. But most won’t get that elusive book deal. That’s because it’s extremely difficult to get published. Even if they do, the likelihood of sales is insanely remote. And that’s if they take the expert’s advice. I saw one woman who had lovely flowing penmanship shake her head when the speaker said publishers weren’t looking for pages of description, that there was no need to spend five pages describing a shirt. She shook her head again with a knowing smile, seemingly confident in her beliefs and dismissing the expert editor’s advice. I shook my head too, but in her direction. She probably spent a good ten pages on shirts.


Attending as many sessions as I did, I was bound to end up in at least one that wasn’t worth my time. I knew I was in a wrong session when the speaker opened with, ‘I’d like to open my remarks with a poem’. I metaphorically hit my metaphoric forehead with a metaphoric first. I created my own poem in response. It started with, ‘There once was a pretentious poet from Nantucket,….’


Speaking of questions, there is always the inevitable, ‘How do you break into the business’ question. Everyone rolls their eyes – perhaps even the speaker – because we’ve all heard the question before. The person posing the question must think you need a secret handshake or know the codeword (which is ‘Swordfish’ by the way) to get a book deal. The answer is inevitably the same – write a really good book that people want to read. Sure, it’s not as cool as a secret handshake, but then again, not much is.